“Echoes” of the Past – The Early History of Baseball in Waterbury, CT

This post was written by intern John McDonald.

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The reward for winning this game is a “purse of $50,” which, today, would be over $1,200!

If any one sport could be chosen as an exemplar of the American spirit, with its lack of affectation, its sincere enthusiasm, and improvisational gusto, it would be the game of baseball. Waterbury’s overall importance in the professional game has diminished since the major league affiliation was lost in 1986. However, in a 1997 article, Jack Cavanagh of the New York Times raised the possibility that Waterbury “may have the richest baseball history of any city in Connecticut.” Published ephemera recently discovered at the John Bale Book Company provides a glimpse into this history. Ten bills, or broadsides (single-sided advertising flyers), printed by Malone & Cooley of 74 Bank Street announce a series of games played between July 30, 1884 and August 30, 1885. These bills are just a quick snapshot in time, and offer little to go on, but with the assistance of several reference volumes, a narrative begins to form.

In the third volume of Anderson and Ward’s History of Waterbury, Arthur Reed Kimball places the origin of baseball in Waterbury in 1864 with the organization of the Waterbury Base Ball Club. The members were all city men and included those “prominent in… official and industrial life, [who were] the best representative amateur athletic talent of a city which has been especially devoted to this American game” (Anderson, 1104). Games were mainly played with teams from other Connecticut towns and cities, but Kimball notes that “excursions were even made to New York and into Massachusetts” (Anderson, 1104). In a situation similar to today’s imbalance of talent, the advent of professional baseball in the 1860s contributed to the decline of the amateur league, as the better players and team officials followed the money.

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This game, starting at 11:00 AM, shows that small and local businesses were granted time in order to play.

Waterbury’s rise to industrial prominence during the Gilded Age placed it in an enviable position. Professional baseball was brought to the city with “substantial financial backing” provided by local businesses. Bills printed in 1884 by Malone & Cooley announced “Waterbury’s New B.B. Grounds”, the location of which became evident after further research. Kimball describes how, after the establishment of the new professional league, “the grounds at the junction of the two railroads was fitted up” (Anderson, 1105). William J. Pape, in his Waterbury and the Naugatuck Valley, briefly discusses the railway network in the Waterbury region as it existed in the late 19th Century (92-94). In 1884, the pace of industrialization was still gaining momentum and the network consisted of two main lines; the Naugatuck Railroad and the New York and New England Railroad. A 1874 map of Waterbury in the University of Connecticut’s MAGIC collection shows the junction of these two railroads to be located close to the present-day Republican-American building in the downtown area. This building, which is crowned by a magnificent 240-foot Italianate clock tower, was once Waterbury’s main railroad station. This structure had yet to be built in 1884, when most of the land between Meadow Street and the Naugatuck River was undeveloped.

The Connecticut League consisted of teams from Meriden, New Britain, Hartford, Waterbury, Willimantic, and Rockville. The bills also announce games between Waterbury and teams from Bridgeport and Ansonia. There seems to still have been an amateur league in existence, as bills also announce games in which the Echoes played the Watch Shops and the Clippers. The latter was a championship game played “for a purse of $50.00.” The incentive of a cash prize shows that Waterbury did not subscribe to the same definition of “amateur” as the purists did. The majority of the players on Waterbury’s professional team were of local origin but Kimball relates how outside talent (Con and Ed Daily of Blackstone, MA and Providence, RI respectively and Tom Lovett, also of Providence) was instrumental in Waterbury winning the state championship for the year of 1884. Kimball refers to this year as “the most interesting and prosperous season of base-ball that Waterbury had known since 1867” (1105)., and the bills by Malone & Cooley broadcast this spirit with their bold, large-print declarations.

1885 saw the Waterburys playing in newly formed Southern New England League. The team roster changed considerably with the addition of “men hired from the Cleveland National league team” (Anderson, 1105). Gone were Daily and Lovett,

A cliffhanger! Did the Watervilles beat the champion team? For $0.25 and a time machine, you could find out!
A cliffhanger! Did the Watervilles beat the champion team? For $0.25 and a time machine, you could find out!

replaced by this group of “Battin, Walker, Campion, and Wheeler… who formed an important part of the Waterbury club for three successive seasons” (Anderson, 1105). These men, however, could not match the numbers of John Campana who led the team with 58 hits on the season. Despite their impressive roster, Waterbury did not win a league championship that season. The fortune of the Echoes in 1885 is unknown as no published evidence has been found.

The bills printed by Malone & Cooley serve as a glimpse into the culture and etiquette of the Brass City in the 1880s. The bills announce that the “lower part of grand stand [was] reserved for Ladies, and Gentlemen with Ladies, exclusively.” The general price of admission was twenty-five cents, however, boys under fifteen were admitted for fifteen cents. Some of the bills from 1885 offer free admission to ladies. In 1880, workers in the metal industries received an average daily wage of $2.18 (Long, 95). The admission fees were, therefore, conceivably within reach of the majority of Waterbury’s workforce. However, with very few exceptions, these games were played on weekdays, and began in the early afternoon. Here, perhaps, is the greatest evidence of the lofty status that baseball once had in the city of Waterbury. The fervor of the time was sufficient motivation for local business owners to not only fund the teams, but also to allow their workers an early dismissal in order to watch the games.

 

Works Cited

Anderson, Joseph, Sarah J. Prichard, and Anna Lydia Ward. The Town and City of Waterbury, Connecticut. Vol. 2. New Haven: Price and Lee, 1896. Print.

Cavanagh, Jack. “Waterbury Revives Its Baseball Heritage.” The New York Times 22 June 1997. Web. 23 Sept. 2014

Long, Clarence D. Wages and Earnings in the United States, 1860-1890. Princeton: Princeton, 1960. http://www.nber.org/books/long60-1. Web. 23 Sept. 2014

Pape, William Jamieson. History of Waterbury and the Naugatuck Valley, Connecticut. Vol. 1. Chicago: S. J. Clarke, 1918. Print.

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